This Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 photo shows the "Grand Theft Auto V " billboard at Figueroa Hotel in Los Angeles. ( AP Photo/Nick Ut)AP2013
What do the mass shooters from the Navy Yard, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Aurora, Colorado movie theater and Columbine all have in common? They're all target demographic buyers for the world’s best-selling videogame. A game that released the day after the Navy Yard shooting and made $800 million in its first 24 hours on the market.
Like other best-selling games today, Grand Theft Auto V trains millions of young Americans to walk into public places and shoot innocent people. It is now reported that, like the Sandy Hook shooter, Aaron Alexis immersed himself for hours at a time in this lifelike virtual reality of violence.
On Tuesday, as commentators across the country were babbling about various precautions that could have been taken, millions of 8 to 40 year olds were standing in line to get their fifth installment of the game that rewards them for shooting civilians—just as Alexis did the day before (and just as he practiced thousands of times before on screen).
Like other best-selling games today, Grand Theft Auto V trains millions of young Americans to walk into public places and shoot innocent people.
If you’re not aware of what’s happening in these games, or just how realistic they are, you must watch this video trailer from the 0:54 second mark to the 1:32 second mark (Warning: Graphic language and violence).
In the video clip above, the games three “heroes” do the following in 38 seconds:
-Stomp the foot of a dead body into a toilet (while yelling F*CK) as blood and water splatter onto the bathroom floor.
-Threaten domestic abuse on a minor in a home
-Yell A**HOLE, B*TCH, F*CK and other curse words multiple times
-Murder multiple innocent bystanders
These are not the secret strip clubs that Grand Theft Auto became notorious for years ago.
These are the upfront scenes in the nation’s best-selling game, which on Tuesday netted more in sales than most blockbuster films.
The game's developers expect to sell 25 million copies this year (That’s almost 1 for every 10 Americans, with most buyers being young males.).
Years ago I reported that an earlier version of Grand Theft Auto allowed players to hire a prostitute, have sex with her and then beat her to death with a baseball bat. The high school teens I interviewed then said the majority of their male classmates played that version of the game.
All of this extra violence and lust is an aside to the real point of the game -- shooting people. Can we be surprised that mass shootings by young men are increasing in America, when this is how more American young men spend their evenings and weekends?
While some adults may be able to separate this ultra-realistic fiction from reality, the truth is that millions of our elementary and middle school students lose themselves in this violent reality for hours on end, as do millions more high school and college students.
Nations have long had heroes for their young men to emulate, from Achilles in ancient Greece to John Wayne and Superman in America.
Now, the best-selling pastime for many young men in America does not even have the option of being a good guy.
All three "heroes” in Grand Theft Auto are violent thugs who steal, deal drugs and beat people to death. They’re men who shoot and kill innocent civilians for pleasure. Players get rewarded for being evil and breaking the law in a world more realistic and more adrenaline-fueled than reality.
Then we act surprised when those young men do the same things they’ve seen and been rewarded for--in reality.
Wealthy game developers argue that this is a fantasy world for mature adults who can separate reality from fiction. But those who sell and profit from these games know their hundreds of millions in sales dollars are mostly coming from young adults and minors. People like Aaron Alexis and another gamer he never met, Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza.
I understand the importance of free speech. What I don't understand is why we are so surprised when young men, who spend hours immersed in lifelike virtual-violence, live it out in our reality.
John S. Dickerson is author of the book “The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare” and senior pastor of Cornerstone in Prescott, Arizona. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter @JohnSDickerson.